Introducing Coding in the Elementary Classroom
Code is the language and grammar used to produce the apps and software we use every day. While real life coding can be complex, introducing students to coding in the classroom doesn’t have to be. However daunting it may seem, you can present coding to kids in second grade and even earlier. Best of all, there are great free resources you can use to jump in without much prep or expertise required on your part.
Lightbot: Code Hour is a great way to get started. In this app, students draft collections of commands for a little “lightbot” to perform. It is very intuitive and builds in complexity the further you proceed into the game. This is a great way to dip your toes into coding in the classroom. To start, don’t tell your students how the app works. After all, this is what their brains and buddies are for. If they have questions about what to do, ask them what they have tried and who they have asked for help. Remind them that failure is a stepping stone, not a stop sign. Resist the urge to do things for them. Keep your hands off of their devices. Click here for helpful hints for each level of Lightbot. If your students really enjoy this game, there are more Lightbot apps that can be purchased for classroom devices or their devices at home. These include Lightbot Jr: Coding Puzzles for Ages 4+, Lightbot Jr: Coding Puzzles, and Lightbot : Programming Puzzles.
Scratch Jr. is a conceptual step above Lightbot. Where Lightbot gave very specific tasks, Scratch is a playground where students can choose their own adventure and program objects to move, change size, change color, make noises and much more. I see this variety as both a strength and a weakness. There are a lot of fun things that kids can accomplish, but it’s also easy for students to get distracted and to jump from one thing to the next. Thankfully, there are great printouts with fun self-directed activities for students as well as scripted teacher lesson plans. I printed out packets for each pair of students and let them decide what they wanted to do. For more ideas or “Starter Projects,” as they call them, click here. There is also an awesome Scratch for Educators section of their site that I highly recommend checking out. Just as with above, resist the temptation to solve problems for your students. Remind them to follow directions carefully and to work together to find a solution.
Code.org truly is the best collection of introductory coding activities for kids. With a selection of games including elements from Star Wars, Angry Birds, Frozen, and Minecraft, it’s a treasure trove of super engaging activities that your students will beg you to let them do again. Even better, most games and activity start with a brief video from professional coders or people like Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates explaining how each of the activities connects to real world. If you have time.
While I don’t expect teachers to designate large portions of their finite classroom time to coding, I do think students deserve to at least be introduced to these concepts and skills. Please consider finding time this year to share one or all of these activities with your students. Your students will thank you for it.
For even more information about coding and other inexpensive technologies you can use in your classroom, visit “The Thrifty Tech Teacher” blog.
Guest post by: Brandon Helder, 2nd grade teacher at Hudsonville Christian School in Hudsonville, Michigan. Or as he likes to say, he’s the tallest 2nd grader at Hudsonville Christian. Brandon writes “The Thrify Teacher” blog. He is married to Kimberly, and they have three girls under five years old. Contact Brandon via the “Say Hello” form on his blog.